Thoughts About Interviewing

When I was fifteen, I experienced what it was like to write for a publication for the first time when I joined my high school’s newspaper. Within the first month, I received my first assignments, and one of them was a piece about a then upcoming law in the State of California that bans the use of cell phones while driving. Seeing that high school is a time when many people start driving, I figured I make it more relate-able by actually getting comments about this new law from students at my school. Armed with a newly bought recorder (and I mean the kind where it uses small cassette tapes to document audio), I set out to do my very first interviews. Little did I know then that I would do many more in the long run.

I think it’s easy to overlook the process of interviewing as a form of storytelling. For many people, they consider it as a form of collecting information on someone (in particular in the case of hiring a potential employee). While it does do just that, in another light, depending on what questions are asked and the purpose of the interview as well, it also sheds light on an individual’s story; because everyone has a story (whether the individual thinks so or not). That’s something incredibly valuable I’ve learned about the interviewing process over the course of the past eight years of conducting them.

Going from a recorder that uses a cassette tape, to a recorder with its own built-in memory, to eventually just using the recorders built into my iPod and phone, I’ve continued to get better at interviewing people. I’ve learned to make interviews more conversational, how to add on questions that erupt from answers given, how to keep to a limited period of time when circumstances request that, and how to be prepared to arrange an interview in multiple forms (whether that be in person, via e-mail, by phone, or Skype). I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing a number of unique individuals over the years, and each one has helped be get better as an interviewer in the long run.

Maybe one of the best parts about the interviewing process is coming up with questions. It’s the questions that make the interview what it is and what answers you are to gain from the experience in the long run. It’s especially fun when I’m going to interview a public figure (like a music artist, a filmmaker, etc.) and they have done interviews before. That means there’s material that I can refer to for research, as well as see what questions have already been asked and how I can build off from that. That’s a flaw that I see many times in situations like talk shows or profile pieces for a magazine or something; that the interviewee is more or less going to be asked the same seven or eight questions over and over again, because an initiative isn’t being made to see what more can be asked about them.

Talking to the subject of interest is another art form all on its own, for you want to make them feel as comfortable as possible with talking to you and not feel awkward at all by any of the questions you may ask. You owe that to them in return for the individual taking the time to talk to you. That’s another flaw I’ve noticed in interviews for talk shows and what not, where the interviewer may ask a really inappropriate (or just badly timed) question, and the interviewee may not know (let alone not have the desire at all) how to respond to it.

If you’ve read A Moment’s Worth (SPOILERS for those who haven’t read it), you may remember how Chapters 4 and 7 pretty much show two different ways of conducting an interview (especially for television). There’s a bad way (as is the case with Chapter 4 regarding talk show host Gene Marley and his inappropriate comments in between questions) and there’s a good way (note Chapter 7 with Serena Tamayo with her approach and her well-thought out questions).

Above all else, referring to my point from earlier, everyone has a story, and the point of the interview is to get a story. But not everyone has the proper outlet to tell that story and therefore, it may inquire the right person to come along and help them tell it.

Just last week, I actually conducted an interview with a family member for the first time; with my grandmother to be specific. Inspired by StoryCorps who allow for people to document other people’s life stories, I decided to do the same, by asking her questions about her life that I’ve never asked her about before. From the experience, I learned many things about her; such as the bomb shelters she and the community she lived in in Germany would go to whenever an air raid would fly overhead during World War II, the dance clubs she would go to with my grandfather when they were dating, how she immigrated to the United States on Thanksgiving Day, and even how she improved her English while living on a military base in Japan. The interview wasn’t for anything specific. For the time being, it’s for my personal records. But given the fact of all that she’s lived through and experienced, I’m so glad I took the time to talk to her about all that I’ve been wondering about her. It was the first time she was ever interviewed.

Interviews are powerful mechanisms of storytelling. That’s why we rely so much on quotes gathered by journalists, tune in to talk shows every evening, why StoryCorps exists, and why we find documentaries so engaging. It’s because at the core center of them all is the interview (the story).

A Moment’s Worth is now available through the following venues: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Smashwords, iTunes. Please leave a review if you can, for my goal is to get a total of at least 20 reviews on all venues (so far, I’ve gotten 12 reviews so I’m already just past the halfway point to my goal). Check out its Goodreads page, which includes two trivia quizzes for all who’ve completed reading it already.

Also, if you haven’t done so already, please go vote on whether or not you would like for my second novel to be available in print or not. This poll will go on until the time comes to start the publishing process, so the more input on this decision, the better.

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